Though only six months old, Google+ is catching on quickly. Not only has Google weaved Google+ into its existing services, but it has created new features as well. One of those is Hangouts, a multi-user video chat tool that, while free, competes well with other video conferencing tools like Skype.
Today, Google extended features in Hangouts, making it even more appealing, especially to businesses. Here are five new Hangouts features to watch.
1. Go Live
It's not uncommon to post something on Google+ and have a number of comments follow to the point that it becomes a discussion. When the discussion reaches a point where you want to move off the long-form text and have a live, face-to-face discussion, each Google+ post now contains a "Hangout" option at the bottom. Click it, and others who can see the post will be notified that you've started a Hangout, and they're invited to participate.
2. On Air Broadcasting
Though still in limited testing with celebrities, public figures, and Google+ "power users", the On Air feature is expanding to become available eventually for all users. On Air allows a Hangout to become a video broadcast instead of a video conference. This would be useful when you want to share your message with more than 10 people, the standard cap on a Hangout. This could be a great way to make stock holder meetings, press conferences, or product announcements available to clients and customers.
3. On Air Recording
If you've done an On Air broadcast, chances are some of your audience missed parts of it, or even the entire event. To help with this, On Air broadcasts are now recorded and uploaded privately to your YouTube account, where you can share the video as you wish. This will allow you to build a library of content that your clients and customers can access on-demand.
4. Dial In
Hangouts started as a great way to video conference between computers. Google then added the option to join a Hangout from a mobile phone with a front-facing camera, making it possible for workers on the road with the right equipment to participate as well. The new update to Hangouts extends this flexibility to now allow anyone with a phone to call into a Hangout session and participate audibly. This makes Hangouts a great tool for group meetings, even when not everyone in the group is in the office at the time.
Hangouts are great, but until now you only became aware of them by seeing a notification on your Google+ screen. The new update not only shows up to three live hangouts on the right side of your Google+ stream, it also rings your device to let you know you've been invited. This strengthens the ability to use Hangouts for group meetings, with those you invite being aware of the Hangout, and those wanting to participate assured they'll have an invite.
These five additions to Hangouts make it a highly appealing tool for companies. With its dual role as both a broadcast service and a small group chat service, companies of any size should find it useful. Combine it with other Google+ features as well as YouTube, and it could be the easiest, cheapest, and most powerful way for a small business to have a presence on the Web.
Joseph Fieber has 25 years experience as an IT pro, with a background in computer consulting and software training. Follow him on Google+, Facebook, or Twitter, or contact him through his website, JosephFieber.